By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
Every season is a fresh start.
For some coaches the concept of each season bringing with it a clean slate is a cliché and for others it’s a motto following a disappointing finish to the previous year.
In the case of Liberty High cross country coaches Josh Hildebrand and Tonya McDonough the fresh start is reality.
The first cross country coaches in Liberty High history, Hildebrand leads the boys program and McDonough the girls, the coaches were given the ultimate clean slate with a chance to build a program from the ground up.
“It’s exciting to have a chance to build something from the ground up,” Hildebrand said. “You can definitely see the excitement throughout the kids with everything we have done. Everything is new, they are like kids in a candy store.”
Inheriting a blank slate of a program can be equal parts exhilarating and stressful.
Four months to the day that Hilderbrand and McDonough were announced as coaches the Lighting will compete in the first competition in history on Thursday at the Trojan Early Bird Invitational at Ashton Cross Country Course in Iowa City.
Five days before the first race in school history Hildebrand still hadn’t handed out equipment or uniforms.
“The crazy part is we still don’t have uniforms, we are still getting tents and getting equipment and all of that,” Hildebrand said. “It all got shipped to different spots in the district and come Thursday it will be there or it won’t, we will still run 5K.”
Even with all that has needed to be done in the past four months the good has far outweighed the crazy for both coaches.
Hildebrand has more than 20 boys in the program while McDonough has four freshman and two sophomores on a roster of six.
The Liberty High boys got an immediate boost in the form of junior Dylan Schmidt and sophomore Peter Woodward who joined the program after running at West High last fall.
“It’s gone really well, coach Hildebrand is awesome and coach McDonough has a lot of coaching experience as well so the transition has gone well,” Schmidt said. “With me and Peter coming from West High we have been able to bring what we learned from (West High coach Brian) Martz who is an amazing coach. It’s really gone well.”
Schmidt and Woodward immediately became leaders in a Liberty High program full of underclassmen.
“Having Dylan and Peter around has helped,” Hilderbrand said. “High school is a little different than junior high so having those guys to help with the freshman has been great.”
Under the direction of Hildebrand, who spent 12 seasons as an assistant at perennial 4A power City High, and behind the leadership of Schmidt and Woodward things have come together fairly quickly.
“I think our team has really been improving,” Woodward said. “We started off with a really small group in the beginning and we have just been building up from there. We have had a lot of good leadership and everyone has been working hard.”
Accompanying each new season is something else that comes with a fresh start, enthusiasm and the Lightning have plenty of it.
“It’s awesome that we are the first varsity sport of the year, we have the chance to put the first trophy in the trophy case,” Schmidt said. “We know that’s an opportunity and we are trying to have that be our motivation to do really well.”